I remember sitting in my Property Law class as a first year law student and learning about the “bundle of sticks,” a metaphor law school professors use to describe property law. In short, each property right is a “stick” taken together as a “bundle.” For example, the property management company that owns my apartment owns most of the “sticks” in the bundle, but it has agreed to let me have the “stick” of the right to occupy the apartment during my lease.
A similar bundle of sticks exists in intellectual property, including copyright. In general, the artist who creates a work has control over how the work and its contents are used, including the rights to copy, distribute, and create derivative works (spinoffs of the work). The trouble is that it can be a challenge sometimes to determine what rights the artist wants to give and which ones she wants to keep. It can also be difficult for the artist to explain to the public the rights she is giving and keeping, as well as for the public to understand it.
This conundrum grinds my gears (and others at OG+S), especially given our firm’s mantra to “make things simple, but no simpler.” That is also why I am a fan of Creative Commons. This non-profit has created a CC Licenses framework to state clearly and simply what rights an artist does or does not want available to the public for works and under what circumstances. There are 6 CC License types, all made up of components indicated by symbols that are easily understood. The most permissive CC License allows for the public to use the work in any way, so long as the artist receives attribution (credit for the work), and the most restrictive type only allows use of the work in the form that it appears and only for noncommercial purposes. Creative Commons also provides resources to help artists decide which license to select, as well as resources on how to present its CC License selection to the public.
However, true to the “but no simpler” part of the mantra, I do have to concede that CC Licenses do not work in all contexts. They are particularly applicable to works that are publicly available online. They also only give permission as it relates to the public, not individuals. That means that if an individual wants permission to do something the CC License does not permit the public to do, there will still need to be a separate agreement to grant that individual the permission. All the same, this framework exudes simplicity and clarity in a way I think should be welcomed in the copyright world.